Fair advice

ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER BATCH OF seniors looking for jobs, another batch of job fairs. Another chance for another first impression. Another mind-numbing column in The Collegian that tries to remind you of the importance of first impressions.

Though USA Today reported that the job market for new college grads was about to heat up despite a poorly performing economy, assume they’re just as wrong on that as they are on their editorial pages.

Whatever else you read, believe this: First impressions matter. Every professor, every guest speaker in my classes, every career services official seems to agree on that much. They only start bickering if you get them started on politics.

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about paper-pushing clerical work or tedious data entry jobs, first impressions make the difference between hired and not. There’s a simple reason.

Your potential employer will assume that you’re on your best behavior during the interview. If you’re a slouch and a slob, they’ll assume you get worse 11 months out of the year when you aren’t applying for a job.

Even if you’re a model interview candidate, they’ll assume that you’re a slouch and a slob the other 11 months of the year, anyway. That’s why entry-level positions get paid so little. The difference between them is that you have a job in one of those scenarios.

It’s in the best interests of that pitiful first-year contract to be on your best behavior during the first and every subsequent interview. Be grateful you don’t have to keep up the act for the rest of the year.

Internships raise the stakes higher. Every hour of every day is one, long job interview, and you are dispensable. You are very dispensable. Behave as such.

Internships add an extra twist into the mix: How well you work with The Boss’ secretary matters even more than first impressions by your last day. The Boss will rely on their trusted head secretary when making contract decisions that, if left to their own decision, would normally be decided by the flip of the coin.

The Boss reasons that the head secretary is the one that will make sure you stay honest and hard-working — which serves his best interests. This head secretary will also make sure you aren’t stealing office supplies or copy paper out of the vertical cabinet. Keep honest; don’t steal office supplies or copy paper out of the vertical cabinet.

Until you have a contract, and even once you do, treat the head secretary as Book-of-Exodus Jews treated their graven images. That stands for first impressions and all those that follow.

That makes internships the working world’s shallow, gold-digging romance. Love it.

Even then, job fairs are even less satisfying. They’re the equivalent of speed dating.

As in speed dating-not-that-I’ve-ever-done-it, a job fair is a quick succession of — you guessed it — first impressions. The time you have to impress them, and the time you have to embarrass yourself, is short.

Better news is that if you screw up with one employer, you can start it all over either a few feet away or on the other side of the building, depending on the extent and volume of your failure.

There are three simple rules to make that good first impression.

Smile. This makes employers believe you’re a pleasant person instead of the difficult, vindictive bitch you are. They’ll learn that in time

Stop cussing all the gosh-darn time. You don’t want to make the associates of Edward Teach & Son blush; it’s unprofessional. While you’re talking to them, try to convince them to set their beard on fire.

Suits exist for a reason. Buy them; wear them. If your Sunday Best instead involves flip-flops, then upgrade your Sunday Best. Dress twice your Sunday Best. The Fresno Bee’s Sunday edition lives for department store clearances, especially those at Gottschalks.

Think this advice is insipid? So do I. Thing is, I know that some bozo will try to crash your job fair in khaki shorts and a bad attitude. I saw it at my first job fair.

Some bozo showed up dressed in his garishly fluorescent orange Hawai’ian shirt, tackily collecting pens from each of the kiosks. He stopped to talk with the management of a local summer camp — they must have had really nice pens — and he nevertheless ended up getting a job. I was that bozo.

Perhaps colloquial wisdom doesn’t amount to a hill of beans — first impressions are more a matter of confidence than dress.

We dress up because we feel more confident about making that good first impression. Sometimes, we need our ostentatiously bright-colored pantsuits when we face large groups of picky and unfairly judgmental Americans.

Just ask Hillary Clinton.

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